October 4, 1864 – General John Bell Hood directed his Confederate Army of Tennessee to attack the Federal supply lines in hopes of forcing Major General William T. Sherman to come out of Atlanta and give battle.
As October began, Sherman’s three Federal armies remained stationed in and around Atlanta. Hood had decided not to attack these armies directly, but instead move north and wreak havoc on their supply lines, which stretched all the way to Louisville. Hood hoped that this would lure Sherman out of Atlanta and onto open ground, where he could be defeated and driven out of Georgia.
Sherman had already detached two divisions under Major General George H. Thomas to stop Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate raids in middle Tennessee. Now he directed Thomas to also protect the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the main Federal supply line, between Chattanooga and Atlanta. As Hood’s Confederates approached this railroad, Sherman reported to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander:
“Hood is evidently across the Chattahoochee, below Sweetwater. If he tries to get on our (rail)road, this side of the Etowah, I shall attack him; but if he goes to the Selma & Talladega road, why will it not do to leave Tennessee to the forces which Thomas has, and the reserves soon to come to Nashville, and for me to destroy Atlanta and march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston, breaking roads and doing irreparable damage? We cannot remain on the defensive.”
Sherman wanted to ignore Hood and move southeast to the Atlantic, but if Hood remained above Atlanta, Sherman would have to take notice. To his dismay, it was confirmed (through scouts and an ill-advised speech by President Jefferson Davis) that the Confederates would indeed remain above Atlanta and threaten his main supply line. Sherman therefore left his 12,000-man XX Corps in Atlanta and directed his remaining 55,000 Federals to move north and confront Hood.
As the Confederates began wrecking track on the Western & Atlantic, Hood confidently wrote his superiors at Richmond, “This will, I think, force Sherman to move on us or to move south.” He dispatched Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps to wipe out the Federal garrisons at Big Shanty and Acworth, “and to destroy as great a portion of the railroad in the vicinity as possible.”
Sherman, still unsure exactly where Hood would strike, dispatched a division under Brigadier General John M. Corse to defend the Federal garrison at Rome while the other Federals moved toward Marietta. Corse was to “act against Hood from Allatoona if he got on the railroad between that place and Atlanta.” Sherman also ordered Thomas to lead his two divisions toward Nashville in case Hood turned north to attack that vital Federal supply base.
On the 4th, elements of Stewart’s corps attacked the Federal garrison at Big Shanty. Stewart reported, “The small force of the enemy took refuge in the depot, which was loop-holed. After the exchange of a few shots and a small loss in killed and wounded they surrendered–some 100 or more.” Moving toward Acworth, the Confederates seized Moon’s Station, “and by 3 p.m. of the 4th the railroad was effectually torn up, the ties burned, and rails bent for a distance of 10 or 12 miles. This work, the capture of some 600 prisoners, and a few killed and wounded, was effected with a loss of not more than 12 or 15, mostly wounded.”
One of Stewart’s divisions under Major General William W. Loring advanced toward Acworth, while Hood set his sights on the Federal supply warehouses at Allatoona Pass. Meanwhile, the Federals crossed the Chattahoochee and Sherman took up headquarters on Kennesaw Mountain, where he could see the nine miles of destruction the Confederates had done. Recognizing that the Confederates were targeting Allatoona, Sherman ordered Corse’s division to hurry from Rome to defend that point.
CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 465-67; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12777-87, 12820-41, 12894-904; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-05; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-79; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 7; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 19-20